The Peace Accord in Colombia – A State Policy, Not of a Policy of a Specific Government

/ Fundação FHC auditorium

The peace accord with the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) should be implemented as a long-term state policy and cannot be put at risk due to political interests and disputes between the new administration, which took office in 2018, and the previous one, which negotiated a deal to put and end to the longest conflict in Latin America’s history.

This was the main take-home message of the seminar “Challenges to peace in Colombia” held by the Fernando Henrique Cardoso Foundation and Humanitas 360 and attended by General Oscar Adolfo Naranjo, a negotiator appointed by former president Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018), former senator Juan Manuel Galán Pachón, and Eduardo Salcedo, expert in international organized crime and security.

“One of my concerns is that, in Colombia, there is no political consensus on the fact that the agreement with the FARC is not an achievement of one single administration, but an achievement of society as a whole.”

General Oscar Naranjo, former director general of the National Police (2007-2012), negotiated the deal with the FARC by recommendation of the then President Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018)

During his election campaign in 2018, the then senator and presidential candidate Ivan Duque – endorsed by the still influent and biggest critic of the process, former president Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010) – said that, if elected, he would not make “trizas” (small pieces), but rather “important changes” to the accord. This is how he signaled his political position as the agreement divides the political opinion in Colombia today. Duque was elected in June, and in early March this year, he presented six objections to the statute that created the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, with the intention of toughening some of the amnesty and benefits granted to former guerrilla members, such as the possibility of replacing prison time with community services (see article on Folha newspaper).

“The President is entitled to objections to some points of the deal, but he needs to be aware of the risks of undermining the law”, said Naranjo. Duque’s objections will be analyzed by the Constitutional Court of Colombia, which had already agreed to the statute, as did the Congress. Representatives of the FARC, supporters of the Peace Accord associated with the Santos administration and human rights organizations fear that the suggested changes will create uncertainties that may jeopardize newborn peace in Colombia because they may make the ELN (National Liberation Army, another left-wing guerrilla) more reluctant to negotiate the end of its activities and encourage former FARC members, demobilized or resistant to the deal, to return to armed conflicts.

Transitional justice

Opponents of the peace deal, on the other hand, say that it would result in unfair impunity and advantages to former guerrilla fighters. “In all cases where a transitional justice model was used to end armed conflicts, benefits such as punishment reduction were given to perpetrators that were willing to contribute to revealing the historical truth and avoiding the same conflict in the future”, said Eduardo Salcedo, director of Scientific Vortex Inc., a company that uses technology to analyze and provide security solutions.

“With the information provided by former FARC members to our Justice, we hope to find the bodies of thousands of victims who died and who are still missing and return them to their families”, said former Senator Juan Galán, son and political heir of Luís Carlos Galán, the Presidential candidate murdered in 1989 during his electoral campaign.

Holding each person involved in a 50-year-old war accountable for their actions and establishing punishments is a tough task since it is not about crimes committed by a handful of people, but large-scale violations carried out by thousands of individuals on both sides. It is estimated that the Colombian conflict killed 260.000 people and over 80.000 are still missing since the 1960s.

The FARC are the main guerrilla group that dominated major parts of the Colombian territory with attacks, assassinations and kidnaps, while also demanding payment from drug dealers in exchange for permission and protection to operate in areas controlled by them. With the accord coming into full effect on December 1, 2016, the guerrilla groups undertook to end their activities, and Naranjo says that 11,000 guerrilla fighters handed their weapons to UN representatives and collaborated with the transitional justice.

Naranjo criticized the fact that there are still some parts of the Colombian society that refuse to acknowledge the singularity of such a long armed conflict (not fully forgotten yet): “This reluctance reinforces the theory that a transitional justice is unnecessary. It would be impossible to bring all parties to trial in the common Justice system after over five decades of conflict”, he said.

“Despite all negative signs from the current administration, I am optimistic that we will not step back. When visiting communities all around Colombia, I can’t find a single person wishing the return of the (civil) war”, the former director of the National Police stated.

In October, 2016, a referendum on the peace accord was held in Colombia, and just a little over 50% of those who did go to the polls answered no to the question: “Do you support the final deal to put an end to the conflict and establish stable, lasting peace?”. Little over 49% answered yes. Faced with a negative result by such a close margin, the Santos administration and the FARC initiated a new negotiation and made around 50 changes to the agreement, which was approved by Congress later that year in November.

Absent State

“The objections against points of the Special Jurisdiction for Peace statute, which has already been endorsed by the Constitutional Court, will result in uncertainties among FARC’s former members and dissident groups that are a minority, but still go strong.”

Juan Manuel Galán, three times senator (from 2006 to 2018), is the son and political heir of Luís Carlos Galán, Colombia’s Presidential candidate murdered in 1989

According to Juan Galán, instead of going backwards, the new administration should focus its efforts on dealing with one of the causes of the conflict: the absence of the State in regions that have been controlled by left-wing guerrilla groups for decades (the FARC were the largest, but there are others such as the ELN), right-wing paramilitary groups and drug trafficking organizations, which are often connected to guerrillas and paramilitary groups. The great drug cartels that were highly active between the 1970s and 1990s no longer exist, but Colombia still is one of the main cocaine producing areas in the world.

“Currently, other illegal groups are fighting for territory previously occupied by the FARC. The State must act fast to occupy these areas and avoid a new wave of violence and the assassination of major social leaders, which is already happening”, said Galán. In recent years, the former senator of the Liberal Party started to advocate for a new drug policy, focused on prevention and treatment of drug users rather than repression.

Peace algorithms

“Paradoxically, the same political group that currently considers the transitional justice process to be inconvenient resorted to a similar process in 2005 (during the Uribe administration), which was key to demobilize Colombian drug trafficking paramilitary groups.”

Eduardo Salcedo, director of the Global Observatory of Transnational Criminal Networks group

During his presentation, Eduardo Salcedo, an expert in international organized crime, drug trade and corruption, showed a detailed report of the settlement process with paramilitary groups that were against the FARC, but in a similar way, formed alliances with drug dealers to fund their illegal activities.

According to Salcedo, during the first decade of the new millennium, the Colombian State, led then by President Álvaro Uribe, offered paramilitary leaders the opportunity to face a maximum of 8 years in prison in exchange for information regarding activities of their organizations. The deposition of one single military commander, referred to as “HH”, took 16 months and resulted in thousands of hours of recordings packed with information on people in charge of assassinations, disappearances and mass displacement of people, helping identify victims and find their remains, as well as providing information on who funded the paramilitary activities, including politics, entrepreneurs and drug traffickers.

“The complexity of the material made available to the attorneys involved in this case was so massive that in 2011 there were still no official chargers or judicial decisions, and that could have led to the collapse of the entire case. Only then investigators reached out to the Vortex Foundation and asked for help to make sense of that sea of information”, he said.

According to Salcedo, Vortex came up with algorithms, visualization systems and platforms that allowed attorneys to understand how the paramilitary groups operated, who was backing them up politically and economically, who was in charge, where violations occurred, how many victims were made and who they were (see infographics with more information at section “Conteúdos Relacionados”, right of this page).

“By the end of this herculean task, we were able to bring to trial not only the main leaders of the paramilitary drug operation, but also politics, civil servants and public authorities that supported it somehow, establishing legal precedents as never before”, said the investigator described by Ozy Magazine as the “Sherlock Holmes of the 21st century”.

“The judicial system in Colombia, like in most Latin American countries, is on the verge of collapsing. And because of that, a large portion of offences, even regular ones, remains unpunished. Imagine what it would be like if traditional justice were to be applied to cases of macro violations, involving millions of dead, missing and displaced victims, like in Colombia? It would be impossible”, said the expert, who also works as a security consultant to Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, and is a member of the Global Observatory of Transnational Criminal Networks.

“This week, when presenting his objections to the statute that created the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, President Duque stalled peace consolidation in Colombia. And he did it in an untimely and dismantled fashion, the opposite of what the attitude of the Colombian State should be during critical moments like this”, criticized Salcedo.


“The greatest challenge in Colombia, as well as in other Latin American countries that are facing violence epidemics, is to replace fear among the population with hopes of a better future.”

General Naranjo

During his speech, the former director of the Colombian National Police pointed out that Latin America accounts for 36% of violent deaths around the world, despite having only 8% of the world population. “We are the most violent region in the world, which causes some politicians to propose harsh policies against crime and even allow major violations to human rights. Others believe that crime is a consequence of social inequality and poverty. Both are wrong. The challenge is taking the path that lies right in the middle, fighting violence and crime with rationality”, said the speaker, who was also the Colombian vice-president from 2017 to 2018.

“As hard as implementing the peace process may look, it is a turning point for the Colombian society, and an extremely important step for the entire Latin America. Without peace, thousands of people will continue to die every year. An imperfect peace is preferable to an endless, undefined war. Aiming to eliminate the opponent is useless. To defend and maintain the newly achieved peace is not only a right but also an obligation of all Colombian people”, said Naranjo.

Democratic Left Wing

Another controversial point of the peace accord is the presence of former guerrilla fighters in the Colombian Congress. Candidates from the Alternative Revolutionary Common Force (a political party that replaced the FARC while keeping the same acronym) received 85.000 votes on the 2018 elections (0.5% of total votes), but the party is entitled to 10 seats in the Parliament, according to the deal.

“Among political forces, the biggest loser in this war was the democratic left wing and its inability to come to power by popular vote, due to abuses and violations committed by guerrilla fighters. It is up to the Colombian people to decide if they will, at some point, allow the left wing a chance to show they can play and follow the rules of the game”, Naranjo concluded.

Otávio Dias, journalist, is specialized in politics and international affairs. Former correspondent of the Folha newspaper in London, editor of and chief editor of Huffington Post in Brazil.

Portuguese to English translation by Melissa Harkin (Harkin Translations).

Revised by Beatriz Kipnis and Otávio Dias.

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